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Here’s Why ECM & ADF Make Such a Good Team

CompartWhat Goes Together, Grows Together – A Case for ECM & ADF Harmony

By Compart

For a long time, automatic production of documents (also known as Automated Document Factory, or ADF) was understood to be document capture, generation, and management (Enterprise Content Management, ECM). Yet the processes were still separate, with output management (OM) initially focused on efficient delivery, and the ECM world rooted in the archive environment. From time to time it looked like ECM intended to “annex” OM (“We can handle that little bit of delivery, too.”). Until it became clear that high-volume document production was more complex than originally thought, not least due to the abundance of data formats and output channels.

The borders of the batch-oriented ADF world, however, were clearly defined only as far as print was concerned. With the advent of the smartphone, iPad, and tablet PC in the business world and electronic versus physical delivery, the ADF concept reached its limits. Since then, the OM experts have also had to deal with document generation. The main issue here is how to format documents for output over every physical and digital channel. One key factor is that companies are starting to cut loose from the A4 (see Dossier).

Input becomes output
One thing's for sure. Enterprise Content Management and Output Management are drawing closer together. Think of cross-system workflows like authorizations and forms processing. Suddenly a manual task emerges as the automatic process steps are “worked through” (the core principle of ADF), requiring human/machine interaction. The process stalls until the document is processed and released. In the meantime it waits in the queue (storage), which is where ECM comes in. Enter the human-machine interface, typically in the form of a virtual “in-basket”, i.e. the employee’s PC. Of course, this example can include processing invoices, offers, cost estimates, credit applications, etc., all of which also require human decisions to progress.

If you play out this scenario, you quickly realize that the tasks involved in processing inbound and outbound correspondence, whether digital or physical, can be linked. Think of the convenience. A wireless provider automatically captures a customer’s cancellation notice, indexes it, forwards it for proper review and approval, and archives it (input management); this in turn triggers the confirmation (including formatting, conversion, and metering) and delivery over the customer’s preferred channel (output management).

Strictly speaking, this type of inbound-outbound communication could be represented as a workflow in a system, provided that the interfaces to the upstream and downstream systems were correctly set. It might then be possible to integrate a simple, or even a high-performance scanner, into the process to digitally read image data and use it for new communication processes, such as delivering the new electronic health cards (valid in Germany as of January 2014) – processed, of course, in batches and retaining media continuity.

Metadata makes it all happen Makes it all happen
ADF and ECM clearly intersect in three fundamental areas:

  • the workflow as an automated process with options for interaction,
  • the archive as the output channel in output management,
  • input management, which includes paper, electronic documents and data delivered via Web portals, Internet platforms, and social media channels.

The raw data of the communication and the delivery channel are what links input management to output management. Of course any data captured via OCR (optical character recognition) must be routed on and centrally preserved. To continue with the earlier confirmation example, the data simply needs to be retrieved, enriched with any collateral information (such as a new offer), and then formatted according to corporate identity specifications. It is then all forwarded automatically to the delivery center.

Even though ECM (input management) and Gartner’s ADF 2.0 (multi-channel output management) are just beginning to converge, the connection between the two is already a reality that is growing stronger by the day. In the final analysis, there really is no reason to view the two as separate, using different systems for one and the same process. The fact is that merging input and output management not only reduces throughput times and costs associated with customer communication, but it also allows better monitoring of company-internal service level agreements (SLAs) such as delivery schedules, response times, etc.

It’s only logical that the two worlds of customer communication would grow closer, especially since they share many technical components, such as the archive, with which both input and output management must interface. Yet many companies continue to maintain separate, redundant entities. Certainly personal sensitivities play a small role in maintaining this divide. No one likes to relinquish turf. But the split makes no sense, especially for reasons of cost and efficiency.

First the organization, then IT
For service-oriented industries in particular, such as banks, insurance companies, and telecommunications providers, the speed and quality of communication is a competitive differentiator. Customers expect not only more convenience, but also faster response times. Gone are the days of downloading, printing, filling out, scanning and then sending a document. Even more important is a continuous process chain between inbound and outbound processing, without media discontinuity, to prevent loss of time and data.

That, however, requires the company to restructure its existing organizational workflows. Issues that need consideration include:

  • Standardization of rules, such as releases and signatures in interactive processes (who may sign what, approve payment, respond, etc.). Releasing an invoice (input management) is really nothing more than an “OK to print” (output management).
  • Where do the interfaces between automated and manual document processing tasks need to be placed?
  • How can the existing yet separate ECM and ADF applications be linked for the greatest degree of automation?

The new structures that result can then be implemented with appropriate solutions for integrated document and output management (see box). The growing number of input and output channels needs to be considered, their interdependencies precisely defined and managed. Once the new workflows are refined with the appropriate logic (rules, text/syntax modules), business process management (BPM) is virtually in place, with the highest level of universal automation of inbound and outbound processes achieved. Here, at last, begins a new era of document processing.

DocBridge Domtrac: a standard for integrated document process management

DocBridge Domtrac is a process management solution that unites inbound and outbound communications technologically and organizationally under one roof. This integration platform is designed to link a company’s document processing applications and solutions and seamlessly integrate new ones (capture, format, convert, archive, bundle, and send documents). It is also possible to tie in external service providers.

One major advantage of the solution is that it supports both input and output workflows (releases, automatic processing of inbound documents, data read-out), in batch processes as well as interactively. Unlike conventional automation tools, DocBridge Domtrac can be deeply embedded in actual document generation.

By combining ECM and ADF in a single system, the user has an end-to-end view of all document-related processes and can therefore better recognize potential for optimization. The company also profits from greater production reliability because the generated documents better conform to existing regulatory and company-specific templates thanks to seamless application and monitoring over the entire workflow.

Dossier - Additional Background
Automated Document Factory (ADF)
is a model for automated document production developed by Gartner in the 1990s, and was first applied to bulk printing only. Alternative output channels, i.e., digital, were not a topic of discussion. Back then, the goal was to produce paper documents, in large quantities as quickly as possible. Experts are wont to refer to this as ADF 1.0.

At the core of the ADF model is a precisely defined automated sequence of repeated process steps without any manual intervention: receive finished documents, then modify, convert, bundle, perhaps add inserts, stuff, meter, and send.

With the introduction of e-mail, Web portals, and mobile devices into the business world, electronic delivery (ADF 2.0) also came to the fore. Only the final step differs. Today it is the recipient who decides what documents to receive and how.

ADF – still timely?
But ADF 2.0 has a serious problem. It is based on a fixed page format, such as A4, which makes display and output on a smartphone, tablet, etc. difficult. Production therefore needs to break free of the A4 paradigm and prepare content for any output channel. Documents originally designed only for print must now be become multi-channel capable. To this end, they are enriched for their journey to final form with as much information as possible, such as metadata, hyperlinks, and instructions for structuring the text. Ideally, creation, formatting and output are separate and a main output instance is created to determine how a document is sent and in what format/size. That is why formatting is seen as an essential component of ADF. For the reasons cited (breaking from A4, separating creation and output, integrating electronic channels), the term “Automated Document Factory” may someday drift out of favor, since most people associate a factory with print and machinery.

But the industry has far from exhausted its possibilities. The near future may offer up communication channels we can’t even imagine today. Interactive audio files may be a totally acceptable medium, for example. Instead of having an invoice or account statement sent to us, downloading it from a Web portal or retrieving it on our smartphone, we may just have it read to us – certainly an attractive option for those with disabilities. In any case, the technological foundation is already in place with the PDF/UA (universal accessibility) document format published in 2012 and ISO certified early this year.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM)
In 2010 the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) first introduced the term ECM, defined as the “strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes” (Wikipedia). Experts tend to refer to this as a control loop that revolves around the “store” and “preserve” components.

The latter components are defined as follows:

Store: Temporary storage of documents that still need processing (releases, digital signatures, review/supplementation)

Preserve: Long-term, safe archiving of unchanging documents, e.g., in PDF/A format.

The question of when to move a document from ‘Store’ to ‘Preserve’ is a subject of current debate and the answer certainly differs from industry to industry. If a bank customer calls his credit institution requesting a copy of six-month-old account statement, it is certainly helpful if it is in some type of interim storage. Many banks archive only raw data under ‘Preserve’ (what transaction occurred on day X, what was the account status on the due date), but not the layout of the document. Ultimately it’s impossible to save all information as printed pages. To begin with, a bank transaction is a data record, and the account statement just one of many possible views of it. If we attempted to preserve all the possible forms of depicting the data, we would quickly reach the limits of technology.

Reproducing a copy of a final document in its original layout for a customer would be difficult. Now the trend is toward also archiving a “snapshot” of what was sent to the recipient, especially where sensitive data is concerned.

ECM is becoming a critical success factor
Enterprise Content Management is therefore more than simply archiving and preserving data and documents, even though that is where ECM has its origins. Today the model includes the following processes:

  1. Document Management System : “Loose” designation for database-supported management of electronic documents.
  2. Collaboration (interactive documents): Processing of documents in work groups, including releases, authorizations, signatures, and additions.
  3. Web Content Management System (WCMS): Interaction with recipients/customers via Internet portals (Web 2.0).
  4. Records Management (RM): Data-oriented document management, such as account statements.
  5. Workflow/Business Process Management: Definition of processes and rules for both batch processing and interactive documents. Examples: What documents need to be released when? When should an invoice be processed for payment? What are the restrictions for individual authorized signatories?

In summary, ECM is becoming a critical business factor that offers, ideally in combination with ADF 2.0 (process automation), significant optimization potential. In addition to file sharing and mobility, market research firm IDC sees digitizing and integrating ECM and business applications as an important trend in 2014. This would allow document-intensive workflows like order and invoice processing to be automated and made more efficient. According to IDC, more and more companies are keen to leave paperbound workflows behind and accelerate electronic business processes.

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1 comment
  • William

    If you're interested in finding out more, Xplor recently published a Guide to the Electronic Document Body of Knowledge. It will become the keystone of the Electronic Document Professional ( EDP ) certification process.
    Part two of the EDBOK Guide describes the Document Production Workflow in detail (which this article refers to as ADF). The archive section covers much of what is referred to as ECM).

    William Broddy Comment Link

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